Archive for Mobility

Meet Our Interns: Caitlyn Kelly

Pursuit Athletic Performance Intern Caitlyn Kelly

Valley Regional student and Pursuit Athletic Performance Intern Caitlyn Kelly Valley

Valley Regional High School in Deep River Connecticut serves the communities of Chester, Deep River and Essex.  Students have the opportunity to get actual hands on experience in potential career paths through the CAPSTONE internship process.

As a result, we here at Pursuit Athletic Performance have been lucky enough to have Caitlyn Kelly join us.  We are excited to have Caitlyn here a couple of times a week.  We asked her to talk about what she hopes to gain from this experience.  See what she had to say!


I first became aware of  Pursuit Athletic Performance when I was seeking treatment for my Plantar Fasciitis foot injury. Here I was taken in graciously by the staff and then treated in an effort to keep me healthy through my strenuous high school soccer season.

As I have always been a fan of overall health and fitness, when thinking about identifying a work site for my internship, the genuine and caring staff of Pursuit Athletic Performance made my choice a no brainer.

While fulfilling my duties here as a student-athlete intern, on a general scale I look to become more knowledgeable about injury prevention and human health, but I am also looking to hone in on particular strength and speed training techniques that can be applied to my sport of choice. While I have been playing soccer almost all of my 18 years, most of the training off the field I have been exposed to has not been targeted to improve my areas of weakness that can make me the stronger, faster, smarter soccer player I look to become. As I am looking to continue my play at a collegiate level, I would like to elevate my current fitness to another level.

To be specific, I would like to learn exercises and tips that strengthen my hips and glutes, allowing for quicker, cleaner cuts and acceleration. I would also like to enhance my core and upper body strength  to have an edge over weaker female competitors.

Though my time interning at Pursuit Athletic Performance is limited, I am looking to make my experience a long term, continued application into my lifestyle as an educated student-athlete.

If YOU would like to learn more about the work I am doing here, would like to get stronger yourself, or have a child who plays sports who you would like to see remain injury free or get faster, come check out the classes and personal training that are available to all ages and ability levels. For a limited time only, we have 2 week trial memberships for ONLY $1. Come join me and check it out!

 

Minimum Standards: Can You Hit “X” Of Something To Ensure “Y” Result?

Team Pursuit triathletes reviewing some basic skills at our fall 2014 "Re-Set Camp."

Team Pursuit triathletes reviewing some basic skills at our fall 2014 “Re-Set Camp.”

Hi Everyone! Coach Al here.

On the heels of our “Team Pursuit” Re-Set Camp this past weekend, a team member emailed me and asked about some proclamations I had apparently made with regard to minimum standards, that you, as an athlete, ought to be shooting for prior to embarking on hard(er), more challenging training.

When answering the email, I didn’t recall exactly what those minimum standards he was referring to might be, so I responded in the email to him the way that Kurt and I typically do, by saying that the “gold standard” for assessing when any athlete is ready to train hard with little to no obvious risk of injury, is to have 2 degrees or less of lateral pelvic drop at 5k race effort. I wasn’t entirely sure that this response would satisfy or answer this athlete’s question, but as I said, it IS a pretty good minimum standard to aim at.

The athlete responded to me with this: “You had a lot more proclamations than that. It is hard as athletes to know we are hitting that, where knowing a list of accomplishments that support that will be far more productive (plank for X min, 10 pushups, etc).”

I completely understand that knowing on your own how much pelvic drop is occuring at any time is difficult. (To know for certainty, come on in to our gait analysis lab in the Pursuit Training Center, and see what IS actually happening when you run.)

However, from my point of view, while it might be neat and tidy to have a LIST of “x” minimum standards to meet, the truth is that training progression and “readiness” for more progressive, harder, more challenging training, isn’t QUITE as black or white as we might like it to be.

And perhaps more to the point, in my mind, one of the fundamental questions that comes out of this discussion is, how strong or stable is “strong or stable ENOUGH?”

Taken at face value, that is a very iffy question with no real rock solid answer that applies to every person. And its complicated by the fact that it isn’t really pure strength we’re after, its work capacity (and perhaps resilience or resistance to fatigue), as Gray Cook alludes to in this article called: Strength?

I love this quote from the article, where Gray speaks about the phrase he prefers to use when describing strength: work capacity.

He says, and I quote: “Let me simplify work capacity. If we are talking about repetitions: Any repetition with integrity should get you an A or a B on the qualitative strength-grading scale. Any repetition without integrity should get you a D or an F on the strength scale. If you can’t decide on integrity, you are stuck at a C.

How many imperfect reps do you have time to do today? If you don’t have an integrity gauge or a quantity-against-quality gauge, you will never be able to truly value work capacity.”

This is a very powerful concept because it points out that as we move forward on the progression continuum (making things harder, or to do more challenging exercises, or to add more load to our existing exercises), we’re also fighting that constant battle to maintain that movement integrity – to keep the ratio ofquality vs. quantity as it should be. For anyone who has pushed themselves to do more, lift more, run faster, or pedal harder, you KNOW that form starts to deteriorate as fatigue rises. Simply put, the more tired you get, the harder it is to do it well.

So if I were to offer you a simple and straight forward minimum standard of “do X reps and you’ll get Y result,” and you didn’t get that result you were seeking even though you hit that minimum, you’d be looking back at me and wondering why. And likely holding me accountable to it.

This athlete said it’s “hard to know as athletes” where you are and whether you’re hitting what you need to.

I get it.

But what if, in your quest to hit some theoretical “minimum standard,” you gave up quality in favor of quantity to hit the standard?

What if the standard itself ended up having very little to do with YOUR specific issue, or the limiters that are most holding you back from reaching the next level of performance?

The truth is, there are VERY few, engraved-in-stone, “if you do this, then you get that” scenarios within the progressive training process.

And along with that, there are certainly NO guarantees that any athlete is “enough” of anything, especially when that anything has to do with stability, work capacity, or mobility/flexibility.

My suggestions?

  1. Keep trying to be better. Not perfect, just better. 
  2. Embrace the process – immerse yourself in it. It might be cliche’ to say enjoy the journey, but it really IS paramount for long-term success and exploding your true potential. 
  3. Seek solutions within AND outside yourself for your weak links, weak patterns, your imbalances.
  4. Go enthusiastically after those patterns, exercises, or skills that you don’t do quite as easily or quite as well as others. Clean them up!
  5. Always come back to the movement quality basics and fundamentals as your baseline. 

The objective real-time video assessment that we do as a part of our gait analysis really IS THE ONLY way to know for sure, exactly where you are at. Other than that, the process that includes increasing training stress or load, doesn’t always have hard margins and may not even have a finish point. To believe that there are those minimum standards, in order to make it easy to know where you’re at, is really fools gold.

That is NOT to say that you shouldn’t keep trying to be BETTER. That’s really the ultimate goal. Wake every day with a commitment to be better.

WillSmithQuoteKeep laying bricks perfectly, as Will Smith said, and soon you’ll have a wall.

Seek the paths that lead you ultimately toward improved body balance, improved mobility and stability, and work capacity, and then reinforce ALL OF THOSE elements (capabilities) with smart, progressive, patient, persistent training.

And, keep it fun along the way of course!

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

Would You Benefit From More Hip Mobility?

“If your mobility is compromised enough to make you compensate, the sensory input that you have to your reflexive behavior is askew—you have an overload of information or an underload of information. Either way, you’re not receiving the information you need. If sensory information is not converted to perception and perception is not converted to action, you’re not going to get better without embracing the idea of changing mobility.”
          – Gray Cook, from his presentation entitled Continuums

Hi Everyone!  Coach Al here. As a coach who works with runners and triathletes of every ability level, all who want to be stronger, better, and faster, I KNOW for them to be their best, mobility must come first. It must come before strength work, before speed work or interval work, and before very long runs. 

Without appropriate mobility in the right places in the body, an athlete will be at much higher risk of injury AND won’t perform to their true potential.

Restricted mobility in the hips and ankles means that athlete can’t attentuate gravity or ground reaction forces. As a result, their calves or legs or low-back must step in and compensate, often resulting in pain, injury, and frustration. There’s also the issue of poor economy or efficiency resulting from that restricted freedom of movement. To put it another way, that athlete simply has to work harder (higher heart rate, more effort, and thus more fatigue and less endurance) at any effort level to produce the same relative speed or power.

IF YOU are short on mobility in the right places, you’re very likely much closer to injury than you realize, AND you’re slower and less efficient than you could be also.

Here’s a short 2-minute video that I hope helps you get a bit more freedom of movement from your hips and ankles. Enjoy!

~Coach Al

 

 

 

 

Four TIPS For The Aging Endurance Athlete (Hint: Yes, You Can Still Keep Playing!)

Coach Al (showing his back-side) at a Pisgah Mountain 50k aid station. Keeping it young!

Coach Al (showing his back-side) at a Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race aid station. Keeping it young!

Some of the readers of this blog know I raced this past weekend at the Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race up in New Hampshire (I finished 2nd  in my age-group and 26th overall), and will again be racing THIS coming weekend, tackling the very challenging Vermont 50 mountain bike race.  These events are just a small sample of what I’ve got planned for myself over the next few months and into 2015!

Today, more than ever, athletes are performing at a high level well into their 50s, 60s, and beyond! How are they doing it?  How do I (a nearly 55 year-old endurance athlete/coach with 35+ years of training and racing in the legs) maintain the ability to keep “playing” even as I’m aging well into my 50s?

To help YOU maintain the ability to keep playing, here are FOUR tips for the aging athlete. These could be YOUR secrets to success! (I’ve learned much of this through trial and error – take advantage of my mistakes and get started now).

  1. Maintain Your Mobility and Flexibility: The single thing we lose most as we age is the ability for our joints to move FREELY. Freedom of movement is what we associate with being young, isn’t it? Flexibility is related and is also something we lose as we age. Mobility and flexibility suffer as the miles pile up, too, so if you’ve been running or training for a few years, its likely you’ve lost some of that freedom of movement.

When you lose mobility:

  • Your body loses its ability to absorb pounding and attenuate forces that work on it while you’re moving, such as gravity and ground reaction.
  • Your stride shortens and you feel every “bump” in the road that much more.
  • You enjoy your training less because it becomes more of a struggle to do simple things such as bend over or step up.
  • Your risk of injury sky rockets!

To avoid these, first seek to find out where you’re tight or imbalanced, and then get started on a specific targeted program to address these restrictions.  This is absolutely your #1 priority as you get older.

A Helpful Video: One common area of unwanted tightness as we age is in our hamstrings.  Hamstring tightness can develop for a number of different reasons (including dysfunction of the glute region or extreme tightness of the hip flexor region). However, very often it develops simply from the overall loss of flexiblity as we age (or from too much sitting in a chair!).

Try this effective and safe movement (stretch) for the hamstrings demonstrated by our own Doc Strecker.

 

(To learn more about WHY mobility is so vital to your success, listen to Doc Strecker and I discuss the importance of this element of human movement!)

  1. Get Stronger: Like mobility, strength (as well as the pre-requisite to developing true functional strength, which is basic core stability) often decline as we age and the miles pile up. Along with staying mobile, the key to maintaining YOUR ability to play comes down to getting stronger!

Many athletes aren’t familiar with the difference between strength and stability. Its important for sure, and something you will want to KNOW as you age. To learn more, check out this blog post we did on the topic.

So what is the best way to get stronger?

There are as many programs and exercises as there are stars in the sky, or so it would seem. I like to keep things simple at first, by going straight at bodyweight exercises. After all, what is better than a pull up or push up to develop trunk strength? Not too much!

(If you’re unable to do a single pull up, start by doing “hangs” and then doing “negatives” as part of your progression!)

Whether it’s a kettlebell, floor based exercises, suspension training, or simply lifting and moving rocks or flipping tires, the best path to optimal strength development and good health is to start with simpler, more foundational movements and progress to more complex as you improve and gain strength.

One last thing: don’t get INJURED trying to get stronger. That happens all too often. Start at a smart level, and progress intelligently.

  1. Get Massage: With increasing age (and more miles along with chronic injuries) come the development of micro trauma in the muscle, which leads to the development of scar tissue and a loss of elasticity. Scar tissue, which forms in response to that micro trauma and tearing of the muscle fiber, reduces elasticity and leads to weaker and shorter, more injury prone muscle.

One key to overcoming the long term negative impact of scar tissue development (and keeping muscle healthy and young), is massage, from a qualified competent massage therapist of course.

Yes, your foam roller used routinely, can help.  But your foam roller can’t do the same things the sensitive and educated human hands of a qualified professional can, digging deeply into the muscle to strip it down and help the tissue remodel. Massage can literally be THE secret for the aging athlete whose goal it is to maintain healthy tissue.

(One additional tip about massage: In my experience, if you have been battling injury or know you have a significant amount of scar tissue or have lost flexibility, getting massage only occasionally won’t do the trick.  You need to commit to successive sessions where the same therapist can work progressively to restore tissue health. With repeated sessions, the therapist will learn more about your body and be able to address YOUR specific issues more effectively).

  1. Get Off Road: When it comes to staying young and fighting father time as a runner or cyclist, nothing beats getting off road! Trails offer variable terrain that challenges the mobility, flexibility and strength you’re working to retain, while also minimizing the repetitive stress that comes from road running and riding.
  • Mountain biking and trail running (and hiking) require very specific skills which keep you young!
    • Glute and hip strength, balance, handling, and leg strength all improve when you ride off road.
    • Agility and balance, elasticity, and leg and hip strength all improve when you run off road.
    • And since every footstrike is different and the surfaces are softer than asphalt, your risk of repetitive injury goes way down!
  • Best of all, you get to PLAY in the woods and keep it fun! Trail running and riding is just plain fun!

Even if you’re not quite as old as I am, you will be sooner than you realize! You’d be smart to start NOW to begin following the recommendations I’ve shared today. The same things that keep you young will also help the younger athlete stay healthier, perform better, and go faster.

 

~Coach Al 

ps: Do you have questions, comments or feedback about these four tips to help you stay younger? Or your own tips to add? Leave your thoughts below or on our FACEBOOK page. 

Come on out to our NEW facility in Chester to check out our new Trueform runners - the BEST treadmill on the planet because YOU have to do the work!

Come to our NEW facility in Chester to check out our Trueform Runners – the BEST treadmill (non-motorized) on the planet for staying younger as a runner, because YOU have to do the work!

Variety Is Greatly Overrated. Here’s Why! (Including TIPS On How To Progress!)

Despite what some believe, strength is NOT the goal with the movement training we do. Strength is a symptom ….a symptom of moving well.  In a similar vein, speed training is not the optimal path toward improving our fitness.  Improved fitness leads to improved speed potential. Speed is a product of moving well and improved fitness.  

~Coach Al


Strength isn't the goal! Strength is only a symptom of moving well!

Strength isn’t the goal! Strength is only a symptom of moving well!

Here at Pursuit Athletic Performance, Kurt and I believe the true value and benefit to movement based strength training resides in digging DEEPER into the basic skill and integration of  a movement.

In this day and age, with athletes becoming bored so easily and instant gratification being so prevalent in every phase of our life and culture, digging deeper into a movement vs. moving “on” from the movement is often difficult (and even frustrating) for the individual athlete to fully embrace.  We seem to frequently fall victim to the mindset of always looking for the next “great” exercise, the next great “tip,” or how we can blast on to the more “advanced” stuff, thinking its a magic bullet to the success we seek.

Whether or not you like it, the truth is that the devil is in the details and the magic to optimal progression and exploding your potential is in true mastery of the basics and fundamentals.  This single concept, while easy to read, might be the most challenging for the average person to accept and embrace, but it IS the key to long term, meaningful success.

So, yes, variety is greatly overrated.  To reiterate, once the shiny newness of an exercise wears off and you’re “bored” with it because it’s not “new” anymore, you’re forced to get deeper into it, or bail out and just move on to something else “new” and “exciting.”  I’d argue the best choice is the former, not the latter. 

Of course, that being said, there are a great many ways to enhance the quality (and thus results) of the training you are doing, rather than to change exercises.  For example:

1. Use a slower rep speed. 

  1. It’s common for folks to move in and out of movements quickly.
  2. It’s common to see folks come out of the bottom of a movement quickly, rather than “owning” that bottom portion.
  3. Use a count of 4 – 1 – 3 seconds: 4 seconds lowering – 1 second pause at the bottom – 3 seconds raising.
  4. Removing the ‘elastic’ or rebound component to better own each phase of the movement.

2. Decrease your leverage. 

  1. Think about the HUGE difference in difficulty between a double arm push-up with a wide arm position, and a single arm push-up! Huge difference in leverage.
  2. On the topic of stability, a tiny difference in how wide your arms or knees are really changes how difficult the exercise is to do well!

3. Improve your focus and tension! 

  1. Where’s the hard in your exercise coming from?
  • From inside of you? Posture, breathing, focus?
  • Or is it coming from OUTside of you?  Are you thinking a different exercise, or more weight (outside of you) will automatically make you stronger? Not going to happen.
  • We need to consciously PRODUCE that tension, even when moving a relatively small amount of weight.
  • Focus, tension management, radiation of tension throughout!
  • “Intensity” and “strength” isn’t just about moving more weight. Its about bringing a certain level of whole-body tension and focus into every movement.
  • In RKC/HKC circles as well as in power lifting circles, there’s a saying: “If you make your lighter weights feel heavier, your heavier weights will feel lighter.” Practice the focus and tension skills with lighter resistance, you’ll get more benefit from every movement you do!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

We Are All An Experiment of One: Find Out What YOU Need The Most and Then Get It Done!

TEAM Pursuit Athletes at the 2013 Timberman Half Ironman triathlon!

TEAM Pursuit Athletes at the 2013 Timberman Half Ironman triathlon!

In order to be able to run as fast and as long as you would like to and remain injury-free while doing it, your running body must be BOTH strong and flexible. Think about this fact: approximately 50% of the energy that propels you forward during the running stride comes from elastic and reactive “energy-return” of your muscles! While you’re taking that in, think about this: at the same time that certain muscles are required to be elastic and reactive, others need to be very stiff and strong, to prevent your body turning into a wet-noodle as your feet hit the ground!

Muscles tense and lengthen and release and stretch (helping to facilitate rotation around your joints while doing all of that!) as they prepare to store energy and absorb outside impact forces and turn that stored energy into forward propulsion. There’s a lot more going on during the stride than you could ever imagine!

And while all of these things are happen within each of our bodies while we run, they happen at different rates of speed and relaxation and ease for each of us. We are, at once the same, and yet very different.

Some of us need more STRENGTH and STIFFNESS in our “chain,” while others need more FLEXIBILITY and ELASTICITY and MOBILITY.  We each have our own “limiters” and weaknesses which may be making us either more prone to injury, or limiting our speed and endurance potential.

So given all of that, do YOU know what your weakness is?

For example…

  • Are you prone to calf injuries because your calves are forced to absorb impact forces due to “too tight” hips?
  • Do you lean back on downhills and “hurt,” suffering from painful quadriceps during those downhills because your quads are too weak to absorb those impact forces and prevent your body from collapsing against the forces of gravity?
  • Are you still landing out in front of your center of mass, even though you know you shouldn’t, because your hams and glutes are not “reactive” enough (too slow) and weak to contract quickly, getting your feet UNDER your hips as you touch down?
  • Does your low back hurt during the late stages of your longer runs or rides because its trying to do the work your butt should be doing?
  • Is your stride short and choppy because your hip flexors are so tight they can’t release to allow your pelvis to rotate forward so that your legs can extend behind you as you drive horizontally forward with each stride?

These are the questions and issues we ALL need to consider, and for each of us, it is different. If you take the time to listen to your body and consider what YOUR weakness or limiters are, then you’ll be able to address it and as a result, improve and run to your true potential!

The answers you are seeking are not always found through “harder” training. Sometimes the answers come when we listen within.  Sometimes things like YOGA or revisiting the BASICS and FUNDAMENTALS, are the path to exploding our true potential, rather than another hard track session.

Our unique Pursuit Athletic Performance “Gait Analysis” system was designed to help us help YOU, learn what it is that YOU need the most! To learn more, go here to learn more about our analysis packages.

Check out our testimonials page here to learn more about the success stories of so many athletes who learned what THEY needed to do to truly explode their potential!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

Is the New York Times Right About Reasons Not To Stretch? (Video)

Hey Everyone!

The other day, The New York Times wrote a piece titled “Reasons Not to Stretch.” You can link to it here. The article cites a number of studies demonstrating that static stretching before a workout will actually diminish your performance. They link to a “bogglingly comprehensive re-analysis of data” published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports that presents “a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.”

Do we agree?

In fact, we do.

In this video, I give you specific reasons why static stretching before a workout is a bad idea. In fact, we are not huge proponents of static stretching at all here at Pursuit Athletic Performance. Stretching is really about restoring muscular balance in the body—front/back, in/out, and side-to-side— in order to enhance more efficient movement. AND, it’s likely different for each person.

I encourage all of you to think about working out a plan for how YOU need to restore muscular balance based on your particular strengths and weaknesses. There are a few stretches I think 99% of all runners likely need to do, and I review them here. But, in general, smart, effective stretching should be a lot more of a personalized endeavor than many of you have been led to believe.

Dr. Kurt Strecker

Mobility First! You Need It To ‘Train for Real’

kettlebell, russian kettlebells, pursuit athletic performance, mobility We have been having some fun this week presenting connections between our training philosophies here at Pursuit Athletic Performance and the holistic viewpoints espoused and practiced in the Russian Kettlebell world (RKC). (For the record, when an athlete is ready, kettlebells are one of our favorite training tools.) A key principle of the RKC System is that the body is a linked, interconnected unit and should be trained as such. We could not agree more, and that is how we approach training with every athlete from elite to novice, young to senior.

We and the RKC also agree that the the issue of MOBILITY is the starting point for all athletes.

“Mobility? Huh? What does that have to do with my running or triathlon training?” Athletes ask us this all the time.

Our video here explains why the seemingly elusive concept of mobility, unfamiliar to many, is an essential element you need to possess. In fact, mobility is the FIRST topic addressed with RKC trainees. In his article, Five Reasons the RKC Isn’t Just About Kettlebells, ” Andrew Read, RKC Team Leader, says, “Stiff and poorly moving rookies must get ready to TRAIN FOR REAL. Without adequate mobility to perform the essential movements, the quick result will be injury.”

We explain here why mobility is so important to you, the endurance athlete. You too need it in order to be able to “train for real.”